It seems like only yesterday (last fall to be precise) when we posted about how Joe Dante had once ben considered as the director of 1989’s Batman before Tim Burton got the nod. Dante’s choice for the Joker was John Lithgow, a well-known character who has enjoyed many decades of constant employment in Hollywood. Dante had met Lithgow on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie even though Lithgow appeared in George Miller’s segment, but something about the actor made Dante see “Joker”. It turns out though that Dante wasn’t the only one that saw the potential for a Clown Prince of Crime in Lithgow.
“My worst audition was for Tim Burton for Batman,” Lithgow said Vulture at the Tony Awards this past weekend. “I have never told anyone this story, but I tried to persuade him I was not right for the part, and I succeeded. I didn’t realize it was such a big deal. About a week later I heard they were going after Robin Williams and Jack Nicholson.”
So how did Lithgow “succeed”? “I was doing M. Butterfly on Broadway and it was an exhausting show,” he explained. “It would have meant leaving that show and going right into a movie, and I said, ‘I just don’t think I can’. How about that for stupid? Actors are not necessarily smart people.”
Indeed, Nicholson became famous with a whole new group of fans, got massively rich, and set a high bar for comic book movie villainy for years to come. Lithgow did end up showing off his villainous chops a few years later as Qualan in Cliffhanger, and he will always be known as Bigfoot’s adopted dad in Harry and the Hendersons as well as being Lord Farquaad in the first, best Shrek movie. He’s received huge praise recently for playing Winston Churchill in Netflix’s The Crown and he has appearances in two big sequels lined-up: Daddy’s Home and Pitch Perfect 3. Perhaps it’s just nice to be working…